Right before Labor Day, I recommended sustainably produced Pinot Grigio from Mezzacarona to you as a great option for a reasonably priced crowd pleaser for your weekend celebrations. Mezzacarona is not an organic wine, but the Italian vineyard where it is made practices many sustainable wine growing and production techniques.
There are many, many vineyards like Mezzacarona that farm sustainably, sometimes even organically, but they don’t put that information on the bottles? Why? One reason is because the majority of consumers aren’t interested in organic or “green” wines. A 2010 study done by UCLA found that although the quality of wine made from organic grapes was often considered better than comparable wine made from conventionally grown grapes, eco-labels can cause the price of a bottle of wine to plummet.
Bottles of wine labeled “made from organically grown grapes” were priced 7 percent lower than conventionally produced wines. However, wines that were made with organically grown grapes but didn’t carry any type of eco-label at all “commanded a 13 percent higher price than conventionally produced wines of the same varietal, appellation and year.”
It seems that while our culture has accepted that organically grown produce or meat from sustainably, humanely raised animals is going to cost more, we haven’t embraced the same concept for wines.
Part of the problem might have to do with USDA organic certification. For a wine to earn that label, it can’t contain added sulfites. Sulfites are helpful in preserving wine. It’s generally believed in the wine world that sulfites are necessary for wines that are going to be held onto for years. Since the USDA certification has only been around for about a decade, not enough time has passed yet for that belief to be tested thoroughly.
However, wines grown using organic or sustainable methods, but not with USDA organic certification, can have added sulfites in them. Consumers might not understand the difference and think that any wine that has some sort of green labeling on it won’t have added sulfites. Therefore, the eco-friendly labels can be confusing.
Once you understand that sustainable and USDA certified organic are not the same thing when it comes to wine, it makes sense to seek out sustainably produced wines because the quality is generally going to be good and the production methods are going to be healthier for you and the Earth. How can you tell if a wine is sustainably produced if the bottle isn’t labeled as such? You have to do your research.
Check out the website of any wine that you are interested in. The information isn’t always easy to find. Sometimes a winery website will have a link to a sustainability statement or a green practices page right on the homepage. Other times, you’ll need to dig down into the pages where production methods are discussed or the vineyards are described. Sometimes, searching for the term “sustainability” along with the vineyards name from a search engine will take you directly to the right page.
Another way to find out if wines are sustainably produced is to visit local wineries and ask. I find saying something like “I know that you aren’t certified organic, and I’m okay with that, but I was wondering what sustainable practices you’ve put in place in your vineyards” is a great way to start the conversation. Asking only “Are you certified organic?” can put the person you're asking in a defensive position because he may think that you’re only concerned about the certification and not the sustainability of the process.
When you do find good wines that are made sustainably but not labeled as such, share the information with your friends by serving the wine and sharing the wine’s sustainability story in person or via social networking sites. If there’s a lot of confusion among consumers about organic or eco-friendly wine, it can only help to have those of us who love to drink sustainably produced wines helping to educate our friends.
Do you have a favorite wine that is produced sustainably, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the label? What is it? I’m always looking for new ones.
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